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Montana Blanca hike in May

I have not written a blog for a while due to upheavals at home during refurbishment of our flat.  It resulted in my access to my computer and Wifi internet being impossible of extremely restricted, and since returning home there’s been lots to do!  So now I have a bit of spare time I am going to upload some lovely nature experiences I had during May and June.

The rare endemic Teide helianthemum (Helianthemum juliae) flowering in the El Portilla visitor centre garden

Cistus osbeckifolius a rare Tenerife endemic growing in the El Portillo visitor centre garden

On 24th May, 2017, two friends and I were planning a walk from El Portillo in the Teide National Park, to La Forteleza to see the red tajinastes and a rare Tenerife endemic cistus in flower. Unfortunately we did not realise that on that day all paths, except one, in the National Park were closed due to hunting for mouflon – an ancient sheep ancestor introduced to the island for hunting. These animals now pose a serious threat to the rare and endangered endemic plants which grow in the National Park and the surrounding mountain areas. These plants evolved in an environment which did not have large herbivores, and therefore have little defence to them. The hunting now being done is to reduce the numbers and maybe eradicate them.

Shrubby scabious (Pterocephalus lasiospermus) is a Canary endemic which grows widely in the high mountain area of Tenerife

Teide Margarite (Argyranthemum teneriffae) a Tenerife endemic beside the path up to Mtna Blanca

So when we arrived at the visitor centre at El Portillo we discovered we would not be able to do the walk we planned. Instead we had a look at the visitor centre’s botanic garden which contains many of the rare local species in it. Here we saw the Red Tajinaste (Echium wildpretii) and the rare cistus (Cistus osbeckifolius) in flower, as well as others. I have never seen the Teide helianthemum (Helianthemum juliae) before, and it was making a great show, with all its lovely yellow flowers facing the sun. I think the flowers are short-lived as only 5 days later I visited the botanic garden again and all but a few of the helianthemum flowers were over.

Night-scented campion (Silene nocteolens), another endemic, which is being repopulated in the pumice areas near Mtna Blanca.

Mountain Wallflower (Erysimum scoparium) in the open pumicy landscape

Then we resigned ourselves to walking on the only path still open to the public on that day, Montaña Blanca. This path serves the most frequently used (and shortest) route to the top of Mt Teide. There is limited parking at the start of the path, on the road between the base of the cable car and El Portillo, but we were lucky to get one as someone just pulled out in front of us. They had probably come down from the Teide summit where many from the Refugio go up to see the dawn.

Mt Teide Broom (Spartocytisus supranubius) (white flowers), surrounded by Tenerife flixweed (Descurainia gonzalezi)

Blue tajinaste (Echium auberianum) beside our path. Some of Teide’s eggs (large blocks of lava) in the background.

I had previously only walked the path to Montaña Blanca when going up or down Mt Teide in the winter, and had thought the landscape rather boring and exposed, so I was not looking forward to the walk. However, the day was pleasantly sunny with a gentle breeze, and not too hot for walking so we started upwards. The landscape is mainly of pumice spewed out by the Montaña Blanca. But there are some local plants that like the pumice environment. It seems that the National Park has not only been controlling the mouflon to benefit these plants but also has been developping a programme over a number of years, of propagating several species and repopulating the area with them. As a consequence we had an interesting walk with many of these plants in flower.

Blue Tajinaste in front of Tenerife flixweed and a pink form of Mt Teide Broom behind Mtna Blanca

More Teide’s eggs, and a view to the long rocky ridge called La Fortaleza, which we had planned to walk to.

The pumice track continued uphill winding around towards Teide. One fork to the right confused us for a short while, till we realised we should have gone left, otherwise it was easy walking till we got to a path junction at the foot of the steep slope of Teide. Here the path to the summit begins a zig-zag section. There is a path to the left to the top of Mtna Blanca which is where we went, and had a gorgeous panaramic view of the caldera while we ate our lunch.



After lunch we retraced our steps back to the road, enjoying the views again from the opposite perspective.

Tenerife Flixweed beside the pumice track

The there and back walk involved approximately 400m of climbing on a very gentle slope with good paths. It was approximately 10.6 km / 6.6 miles long and took us about 3 – 3.5 hours.

A stroll in the Teide National Park to see the fantastic endemic flowers

A group of Teide Vipers Bugloss - Tajinaste rojo - (Echium wildpretii) on the slope of the caldera wall

A group of Teide Vipers Bugloss – Tajinaste rojo – (Echium wildpretii) on the slope of the caldera wall

This is to let all my readers know, to hurry up to the National Park in the next 2-3 weeks to enjoy the festival of flowers there at the moment. Yes the Teide Viper’s Bugloss, or Tajinastes rojos, (Echium wildpretii) are out already, even though it’s earlier than usual. There is also a fantastic display of Mountain wallflowers, Alhelí, (Erysimum scoparium), and Teide catmint, Tonática, (Nepeta teydea) on the slopes around Boca de Tauce which were affected by the forest fire in 2012. I have never seen such a profusion of colourful flowers in that area as there is this year.

Mountain wallflower - Alheli - (Erysimum scoparium)

Mountain wallflower – Alheli – (Erysimum scoparium)

And for those of you who are not great walkers, or who have friends who are not, this short walk will get you up close to the plants without walking very far, or on very rough surfaces, but far enough from the road to be able to enjoy it.

My friends and I parked at the Mirador which is between Km 3 and Km 4 on the road from Chio to Boca de Tauce, the TF-38. It is the mirador which looks up at the Narices del Teide (Teide’s nostrils) on Pico Viejo. From the parking area we crossed the road and took a path which runs behind the crash barrier for a few yards and then turns away. It heads first in a northerly direction and then wanders through the lava towards the west and finally ends up heading south and eventually joins a track at the foot of the caldera wall. This path is on lava and is mostly comprised of small lava pebbles, so not the most comfortable walking surface. If the roughness of the path bothers you, instead of taking the path from directly opposite the parking at the Mirador, walk down the road towards Boca de Tauce (roughly south) for about 300m till you see a track on the right, which you take. Walk towards the caldera wall and there you meet where the path joins the track.

Teide catmint (Nepeta teydea)

Teide catmint (Nepeta teydea)

At the bend in the track where the path joins, you start to see the flowers. Initially some Escobon plants (Chaemacytisus proliferus) with white broom-like flowers, a canary endemic widely used for animal fodder. Continuing further, past a rocky part of the caldera wall, the slope opens out on the right and the Tajinastes begin, accompanied by Mountain wallflowers. Continue on the track, past an open sandy area which is underlain by ‘ropey’ lava, and continue up a slight slope on the track to another area on the right with lots of Tajinastes, mixed with Mountain wallflowers, Teide catmint and Mountain figwort (Scrophularia glabrata). On the left are also some bright yellow Sticky Broom flowers or Codeso del monte, (Adenocarpus viscosus) making a contrasting colour.

The slope of the caldera wall covered in pines and Mountain wallflower giving a beautiful mauve haze

The slope of the caldera wall covered in pines and Mountain wallflower giving a beautiful mauve haze

You could then turn around and retrace your steps, but if you fancy a longer walk, continue up the track to a bend, where a signposted footpath goes to the left. If you follow that footpath along the foot of the caldera wall, and for one section, on the lava, you will see more flowers, including a whole slope covered in Teide catmint with a haze of deep purple up the slope. You will arrive at the National Park information post near to Boca de Tauce in the building called Casa Juan Evora. You can then either return the same way, or walk back on the road (not really recommended). Of course, if you planned in advance you could organise one car at each end.

Flowers of the Sticky broom - Codeso del monte - (Adenocarpus viscous)

Flowers of the Sticky broom – Codeso del monte – (Adenocarpus viscous)

The walk my friends and I did was just over 6 km (both there and back) and we took 2.5 hours. It could have been considerably less, but we were stopping a lot, looking at the flowers and taking photos. If you extend the walk to Boca de Tauce as suggested the walk in both directions will add up to between 8.5 and 10 km depending whether you take the path or track at the beginning and end.

More Teide Vipers Bugloss - Tajinaste rojo - with Mountain wallflowers - Alheli

More Teide Vipers Bugloss – Tajinaste rojo – with Mountain wallflowers – Alheli

Enjoy the floral spectacle!

Teide Marguerite -margarita del Teide - (Argyranthemum teneriffae) in the lava beside the road

Teide Marguerite -margarita del Teide – (Argyranthemum teneriffae) in the lava beside the road

Another circular walk above the Barranco de Tagara

Teide wallflower (Erysimum scoparium)

Teide wallflower (Erysimum scoparium)

We did this walk last Saturday, starting from the Mirador below Pico Viejo, (rather confusingly called the Mirador de Chio) near km 3 of the TF-38, in the National Park. The first half followed the route taken by our walk on July 4th, but when we reached our lowest point, instead of turning right as we did then, to complete a circle, we turned left.  I was introducing my winter walking friends to the new path down from near the El Cedro firepower, which we had discovered on the July walk.

Malpica del cumbre (Carlina xeranthemoides) a Tenerife endemic thistle common in the drier parts of the island.

Malpica del cumbre (Carlina xeranthemoides) a Tenerife endemic thistle common in the drier parts of the island.

The new path had been further improved since we had used it before, and the lower part was much clearer and easier to walk. We all enjoyed the excellent views into the dramatic and beautiful Barranco de Tagara. The barranco was the worst-affected area during the forest fire in 2012, and was like a war zone after it – see my blog at the time.  It was lovely to see that the barranco is recovering its natural beauty. Most of the trees, which are Canary Pines (Pinus canariensis), are recovering well, with green sprouts appearing all up the badly burnt trunks. So instead of a broad green canopy, there are lots of green lollipop sticks! However, that lets more light reach the forest floor and the ground herbs are making the most of it, growing up and even flowering at this time of year.

A view down into the Barranco de Tagara, recovering from the 2012 forest fire

A view down into the Barranco de Tagara, recovering from the 2012 forest fire

I was amazed at the number of different flowers, which I had not expected at this time of year. We have had a little rain recently, and it has been quite warm, so some flowers we would see in spring have already started flowering.

Flor de malpais (Tolpis webbii), a Canary endemic of the high mountain area.

Flor de malpais (Tolpis webbii), a Canary endemic of the high mountain area.

On the north side of the El Cedro mountain there are a couple of water springs. They have been tunnelled in a little to increase the flow. Because there is always water there, there are always birds around too. And there are a wide variety of plants too, including the Tenerife endemic Night-scented campion (Silene nocteolens), which I did not get a good picture of, Mountain parsley (Pimpenella cumbrae), which was not in flower, and the Moralito (Rhamnus integrifolia) an evergreen shrub which is a Tenerife endemic also. Before the fire there were a few of these shrubs but yesterday I could only see one small one, but that is better than none.

One of the water springs on the north side of El Cedro mountain

One of the water springs on the north side of El Cedro mountain

We descended on the path past the firetower, and a few metres after passing it on our left we reached a cairned path on the right which we took for a short while, till we reached the new path going left marked by cairns and white paint spots, which crosses above the Barranco Tagara, with fantastic views down into it.

When we reached the track we crossed it, found the yellow/white way marked path from Boca de Tauce to Guia de Isora, the PR TF 70.  Initially we went a few metres straight along it to have lunch at the lovely viewpoint on the top of the small hill called Mt Tafosaya (point 8 on walk 9 in the book ‘Tenerife Nature Walks”.

A small specimen of the evergreen Tenerife endemic shrub Moralito (Rhamnus integrifolia) on top of a rock near the water spring

A small specimen of the evergreen Tenerife endemic shrub Moralito (Rhamnus integrifolia) on top of a rock near the water spring

It was warm and sunny and the view was great, although clouds were beginning to gather below us. We sat chatting and lunching and enjoying the scenery and ended up spending 30 minutes at the viewpoint!

After lunch we returned back to where we joined the PR TF 70 and continued in a southerly direction, back towards Boca de Tauce, and followed it until we came to the track on the bend with a fine view of Pico Viejo and Teide (see the last photo below), which is point 3 on walk 9 in the book.

Canary mountain figwort (Scrophularia glabrata) on Mt Cedro

Canary mountain figwort (Scrophularia glabrata) on Mt Cedro

From this bend we took the track descending gently on the Teide side of the caldera wall, and stayed on it till it reached the main road TF-38 near Km 3.

I noticed that on the left of the track as it ran next to the caldera wall the National park had clearly cut down some burnt shrubs and a few pines, and consequently a vast number of native plants had sprung up, including many of the iconic Teide Vipers bugloss (Echium wildpretii). In a year or two when these come to flowering there will be a lovely show there in May/June.

A Teide marguerite (Argyranthemum teneriffae) flowering in a sheltered position

A Teide marguerite (Argyranthemum teneriffae) flowering in a sheltered position

Despite our long lunch break, the walk only took a group of 8 fit walkers 3hrs 40m. It was around 10 km/6.25 ml long, with only 420m /1379 ft of ascent, although quite a lot of it does come at the end of the walk.

An unknown caterpillar we saw on the ground beneath pines near the firepower.

An unknown caterpillar we saw on the ground beneath pines near the firetower.

This very hairy caterpillar was seen, on its own, on the ground below pines near the firetower. I tried looking it up, and thought I had cracked it as the Pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa), so called (the english name) because the caterpillars tend to follow each other walking in long processions. However, I looked up the list of species for the Canary Islands and that moth is not found here. So has anyone any ideas?

Further research on this caterpillar leads me to think it is probably Calliteara fortunata which is a Canary endemic species whose caterpillars feed on Canary pine trees (Pinus canariensis), Retama (Spartocytisus supranubius) and escobon (Chaemacytisus proliferus). 

A challenging walk from the Parador to Villa de Arico

Looking across to Mt Teide from near the top of Mt Pasajiron

Teide wallflower (Erysimum scoparium) outside the Parador

This walk involves starting in Las Cañadas at the Parador hotel at 2100m/6895ft altitude, climbing up to the caldera rim and over Mt Pasajiron at 2529m/8305ft and then descending over 1800m/5910ft to Villa de Arico. It was about 23.5km and took 2 people 6.75hours. So if you are not up to this kind of strenuous walk do not attempt it, especially as most of the way you are nowhere near a road or habitation. The other main difficulty with this walk is that it is linear and that neither end is particularly easy to access by bus. So, having told you all the disadvantages, now let me tell you that it is an excellent walk, with varied landscapes, exceptional views, and good clear, well signed paths with good walking surfaces. We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

We caught the 342 bus from Los Cristianos to the Parador, which meant we were not able to start walking till 10.45.  When we arrived there was a biting cold wind, and it was cloudy, so it felt very cold.   We had a brief look at the signboard at the turning circle by the Parador for this walk, the PR-TF-86.  As soon as we were ready we set off at a good pace to try to get warm.  We were familiar with the first part of the walk, on National Park path 4 across to the track and then left along the track for 3 km, so we walked fast.  At times we were sheltered from the wind and it felt a lot warmer.

Plant of Sideritis eriocephalus near Mt Pasajiron

After 45 minutes of hard walking we reached the turning right off the track onto path 5 to climb the caldera wall to the Degollada de Guajara.  The path zig-zags up the slope and took us about 25 minutes to climb.  As we climbed some snowflakes started to drift in the wind.  We looked across at Mt Teide nearly covered in dark cloud, and wondered what we were doing!  Just before we reached the top we put on all our layers as we knew on the ridge the biting wind would be at its worst.  Then we immediately turned left to begin the climb of Mt Pasajiron.  By now, fortunately, the sun was trying to break through the cloud on our side of the caldera, and the cloud was beginning to lift from Mt Teide over the other side, so it was looking brighter.

We had walked this bit of the walk only once before, four years ago when the path was much less defined than now, and we got lost just after passing the top of Mt Pasajiron.  This time it was a relief to see the well-defined and easy to walk path zig-zagging down from the peak and up the other side of a valley.  The relief, and the fact that, in the valley out of the wind, the sun made us feel more relaxed, gave me a little time to look around at the plants.  Up there near the edge of the caldera rim is a very special selection of plants, survivors of freezing winds and blazing sun.  Of course, barely anything was in flower because it was a bit early anyway, and because of the very dry winter, but I could see there were some rare plants, including the very local endemic false sage, Sideritis eriocephalus, and the Teide knapweed, Cheirolophus teydea.  In addition, on a very exposed high point of the next rocky outcrop, a fine specimen of the Cedro, Juniperus cedrus, the juniper of the high mountains.

A good example of a Cedro tree (Juniperus cedrus) the high mountain form of juniper on an exposed ridge

Having climbed out of that valley we started to look for the junction of paths where we knew we had to leave the National Park path 8 and turn right, and downhill to go to Arico.  We reached the junction one hour and three-quarters after starting walking.  Although there was no signpost, it was well marked, with the yellow/white livery of the PR-TF-86, showing both the way to go, and crosses showing where not to go.  We started down the hill till we crossed an old track and found a spot in the sun and out of the wind to have our lunch.  We were enjoying wide views to each side and downhill, but only so far, as a cloud was gathering at a lower level, in the pine forest zone.

The view downhill to the cloud in the pine forest.

We continued downhill towards the pine forest we could see ahead.  We passed through an area where there were a lot of flakes of obsidian in the path and the land around.  The landscape dominated by the Mt Teide Broom (Spartocytisus supranubius) gradually gave way to pine trees, and we even saw a few white flowers among the Escobón (Chamaecytisus proliferus) in the understory.  Some of the pine trees were very large and clearly ancient, and under a group of these were some old shelters or corrals for animals.  We continued down as the cloud began to restrict our views, but it was not uncomfortably thick.

At an altitude of about 1900m the path crossed a dry riverbed immediately above a dramatic canyon.  Around the edge of the canyon were more Cedros (Juniperus cedrus).  By now we had passed a number of junctions of paths going left and right, arousing our interest about where they went, but we continued on down following the yellow/white paint markers.  A bit lower down the path re-crossed the riverbed, this time at a point where the far wall was a near vertical smooth face of rock.

Looking into the canyon

Soon after this we started to come into contact with signs of civilization in the form of a well-used driveable track which we crossed and re-crossed several times from then on.  Now the path junctions had signposts, as we were nearing the small settlement and barbecue park at El Contador.  As the path zig-zagged down a steep slope under pines, I saw the first flowers for several miles, a Tenerife Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus campylocladus).  We had passed thousands of bushes of Pine Forest Cistus (Cistus symphytifolius) which should have had signs of flowers, but were all shrivelled and dry.

Tenerife Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus campylocladus)

We had now reached the paths we knew from walks in the area of the Parque El Contador, so the route was now familiar.  We crossed the dirt track for the last time and came down onto a ridge above El Contador.  We were now below the cloud, and feeling a bit warmer.  Descending to the level of El Contador, we crossed the narrow tarmac access road and started the final bit of descent, gradually coming out of the pine forest, through open country and finally down to farmland.  We took the detour left (not signposted, but with yellow/white markers) which passes along a scenic section of the Barranco de los Andenitos.  Then rejoining the path down a ridge we continued to the junction where there is a choice of paths to Ortiz.  We chose the left one, along the ridge.  The right one goes down into the streambed of the same very scenic through a section popular with rock-climbers.

Our scenic detour down a section of the Brco de los Andenitos

Reaching the road bridge on the edge of the village of Ortiz we found the signpost to Villa de Arico, which had previously been there, removed.  The footpath was blocked by rows of rocks daubed with paint slogans such as ‘stop’ and ‘privado’.  I had read about a problem with one particular landowner hereabouts, but we pressed on along the left bank of the barranco from the bridge, negotiating all the obstacles.  It was clear many other walkers had done the same, and eventually the path became unobstructed again.  However, easy walking was not to last long, soon we started a steep zig-zag section descending a rocky ridge.  The path was very rough and required a lot of attention to avoid accidents when we were already tired, so we were glad when the path left the ridge, crossed the barranco, climbed up the other side and joined the tarmac road entering Villa de Arico.

We arrived at the main road just 15 minutes late for the bus we had hoped to catch.  Thinking we could catch the next one 2 hours later, we had a very pleasant meal in a bar.  Unfortunately the expected bus did not come.  Meanwhile we could have caught a bus down to Poris de Abona on the coast and caught the express motorway bus back to Los Cristianos.  That would have been quicker than what we actually did which was to take a taxi to Granadilla and a slow bus to Los Cristianos from there.  I don’t think our minds were working very well after all the exertion, but we did get home eventually!